Simplfying the Gluten Free Lifestyle
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  • Author: sidaythree
  • Topic: Hidden Sources of Gluten
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Spot hidden sources of gluten


Adjusting to the obvious guidelines of a gluten-free diet is challenging and often overwhelming. You soon learn that what is gluten-free today may not be gluten-free tomorrow—mainly because companies can change their recipes, suppliers, or production methods. As if that weren’t bad enough, you begin to realize that gluten is ‘hidden’ in foods. How is one to keep up to date with all of this?

Don’t despair, as there are many avenues of help available to you. Thanks in large part to Andrea Lavario and her Task Force, congress will soon be requiring companies to list ingredients that heretofore have been disguised under auspicious names such as ‘vegetable protein’ and ‘food starch’ (see Autumn 2004 Scott-Free, pg. 1). There are also a few reliable food lists on the internet that are compiled by people who call companies regularly to check out dubious ingredients. Some of the posted lists are out of date and unreliable, so check the validity of the sight before relying on the information given.

So what are the hidden sources of gluten?

Let’s examine our homes first. Do you toast your gluten-free bread in the same toaster that is used for wheat-based bread? Yes, those tiny wheat crumbs that remain in the toaster could contaminate your gluten-free bread. Invest in a dedicated toaster for gluten-free products. If you toast wheat-based hamburger buns and hot dog buns on the same grill as gluten-free ones, this could be another breeding ground for cross-contamination. Grill the gluten-free foods first, and afterwards clean the grates thoroughly (Put the grates in your oven before running the self-cleaning cycle). If you are baking both gluten-free and wheat-based cookies during the holidays, make the gluten-free ones first. If you bake with wheat flour first, there could be some residual flour dust in the air and on your counters (Wheat flour can remain in the air for up to 24 hours!). Wood cutting boards are porous and gluten may become embedded in them—use a marble cutting board instead. Finally, beware of knives. At breakfast, do the gluten-consuming members of your family spread peanut butter on their toast, and then double-dip to get a little more peanut butter out of the jar? If so, get a peanut butter jar just for you. When they double-dip, some of their wheat crumbs may be getting into the jar and will eventually contaminate the dollop you retrieve from the jar.

Non-food items also pose gluten challenges. The glue used on lickable envelopes and stamps often contains gluten. Self-stick labels and stickers may contain gluten. Do you use latex or rubber gloves to wash dishes? These are often dusted with wheat or oat flour. Make a phone call to your doctor, dentist, orthodontist and periodontist and request that they use unpowdered gloves. Gluten hides in art supplies, such as paints, clay, play dough, and glue. It is also present in many personal items such as lipstick, lip balm, sunscreen, shampoos, soaps, cosmetics, skin lotions, toothpaste, and mouthwash. Household products such as cleaning solutions, detergents, even bar soap may contain gluten. Fortunately, you can refer to lists on the internet, such as those available at, for ‘safe’ alternative brands that are available.

Medications frequently contain gluten. Pills may be dusted with flour during manufacturing and capsules may have gluten present in the oil inside. Frequently your pharmacist will be able to tell you if any given medication is safe for you, but you may have to call the manufacturer. Again, there are websites that have gluten-free medications listed (see

Oats remain a food of debate. While ‘pure’ oats may be safe for some celiacs, it is very difficult to find ‘pure’ oats that are grown and processed in the U.S.A. Some celiacs are able to consume oats imported from Ireland, while others have reactions to them. Even the safe flours (rice, potato, tapioca, bean) can be contaminated if they are milled or processed in a facility that processes wheat, rye or barley grains. A call to the processing company will tell you if they have machinery and facilities dedicated to gluten-free grains only. If you purchase imported flours from an oriental store, you obviously are not able to contact the manufacturer. Many of the Asian plants are dedicated exclusively to processing rice products, especially those in Thailand, but some are not. It is your personal decision whether or not to trust the purity of items purchased from abroad.

Reading labels is a highly refined art form. Not-so-obvious terms on labels signal gluten, like malt, graham, spelt, kamut. If you pick up a jar of chili powder it may or may not contain wheat flour which can be added to keep it from clumping—but even if it does you likely won’t find wheat listed on the label (McCormick does not add wheat to their spices, however they do not guarantee that their spice ‘blends’ are gluten-free). There are foods that you think are 100% pure, but when you examine the label, other ingredients have been added, like tomato paste. Some tomato paste is made from 100% tomatoes, while other brands add additional ingredients. If you are buying a jar of spaghetti sauce, the ingredients list ‘tomato paste’ but the manufacturer has not been required to tell you what ingredients may have been added to the tomato paste. Rice syrup may use barley enzymes. Yeast may be grown or dried on wheat flour. Coleman’s mustard has undeclared wheat in it. While the wrapper on a chocolate bar lists all gluten-free ingredients, the conveyor belt may have been dusted with wheat flour to keep the candy from sticking. The same holds true for chewing gum, which is often dusted with flour (Food manufacturers are not currently required to list ingredients used in ‘packaging’).

At the grocery store beware of anything that is processed. If it is not a whole food, it may contain gluten. Common culprits include rice or corn cereals, ice cream (wheat is often added to prevent ice crystals from forming), soups, yogurt, snack foods, lunchmeats, sausage, and even ground beef. Shortening may contain vitamin E processed from wheat germ.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more confusing, you find hieroglyphics on labels. Letters like HVP (hydrogenated vegetable protein), HPP (hydrolyzed plant protein), TVP (textured vegetable protein), MSG (monosodium glutamate could contain wheat if made outside of the U.S.A.), and phrases like modified food starch (safe if made in the U.S.A., but may contain gluten if made elsewhere) tell you nothing about what ingredients it may contain. Other confusing ingredients are maltodextrin, stabilizers, binders, fillers, natural flavor, vegetable gums, and mono & diglycerides, to name just a few. Enriched products should be avoided unless you are certain of the sources of ‘enrichment’. See the Safe & Forbidden Lists at for detailed lists of ingredients and their gluten-free status.

Finally, re-check labels each time you buy a product. Companies change their recipes periodically. Duncan Hines Vanilla Ready-to-Spread Frosting used to be gluten-free, as were Pringles Potato Chips—but both manufacturers recently began adding wheat starch to these products. It should be noted that Duncan Hines received so many letters and calls of protest about wheat being added to their frosting that they have switched back to the original gluten-free recipe—but check the label before purchasing. Product ingredients may change from one batch to another. Cool Whip usually does not contain wheat, but occasionally it is added. Archway macaroons are sometimes made with potato starch and sometimes with wheat starch.

The lists above are not intended to overwhelm you, but to make you more aware of the problem that you face, and to help you become more alert. With practice and time, screening for gluten becomes second nature. Now for the good news! By 2006, food labeling will disclose many of the hidden ingredients now on labels, including wheat (barley and rye do not have to be disclosed, but are used far less frequently than wheat). Kraft Foods is already beginning to post labels reading “Gluten Free” on many of their products; other companies will follow their lead. Many grocery store chains are responding by setting up entire gluten-free sections. Gluten-free companies and bakeries are springing up every day. Food chains are recognizing the needs of celiacs and are catering to this new market—Godfather’s Pizza now offers a gluten-free pizza crust and many restaurants like Outback Steakhouse now offer gluten-free menus upon request. As each month passes, it is becoming easier and easier to identify gluten-free products—and the number of products made for celiacs will continue to grow as time goes on.

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